Bishop of Guildford.
Dear Bishop Christopher,
I do not think we have met, but I have a long association with St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, (I’m still Visiting Professor- a Roman Catholic theologian ) which was originally validated by the University of Surrey, before it became independent. I write to defend Revd Stephen Sizer from the charge of anti-Semitism and first want to explain my own position.
Of course it is tragic that this issue is being aired at a time when Europe grieves over the deaths of the Jewish children and their Rabbi-father in Toulouse.
For many years I belonged to CCJ – and even ICCJ. I was a member of the ICCJ Theology committee and went to some of their conferences. I am a good friend of Rabbi Dan Cohn Sherbok – we wrote a book together in 2005- “Pursuing the dream – a Jewish-Christian conversation”. Gradually I realised that, whereas I still belong to CCJ, I could not stand aside from Palestinian suffering.
I’m now a patron of Friends of Sabeel UK – and that is how I met Revd Stephen Sizer. Sabeel works for the liberation of Palestinian Christians. I’ve worked with them for over 10 years and have never heard an anti-Semitic remark: indeed the Revd Naim Ateek, Sabeel’s founder, stresses the need to make peace with justice-seeking Israelis. Every Sabeel conference I attend gathers together peace-seeking groups of Israelis.
And that is also the motivation of Stephen Sizer. Like many of us, he runs the danger that, in criticising the Israeli occupation of the west Bank as unjust, as I do, he will be called anti-Semitic. As I understand, the cartoon at the origin of this controversy was anti-Semitic, and once Revd Sizer realized the seriousness of the error of linking his Facebook entry with the offending website, he did remove it and wrote to the Jewish Chronicle on 4 January.
At all the meetings I have attended where he has been present, or giving a lecture, I have never heard an anti-Judaistic/anti-Semitic statement. Indeed I have heard him criticise violence on both sides. Like all of us who work for peace, Stephen Sizer walks the dangerous tightrope that in criticising the unjust actions of the Zionist government, (actions which have frequently been condemned by the United Nations) he will be called anti Semitic. Such is his commitment to justice and peace that he is willing to walk this tightrope. But there is a question as to how long a person can endure such persecution. I would like to recall to you Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, (a reform Jewish Journal) who lives in San Francisco. He similarly takes a strong stance against the Israeli occupation –and pays the price that his house is frequently vandalised. Stephen’s case is similar. There are many people who cannot envisage the case on both sides of the divide.
Rather than make Rev Stephen Sizer suffer further, should we not, Jews and Christians join together in a struggle for truth and justice – and bring an end to this oppressive state of affairs while affirming the need for Jews and Christians , Israelis and Palestinians, to live together in peace?
I am happy to discuss these issues further – or even to come to Guildford to do so.
Yours in hope of peace and reconciliation,
(Patron: Friends of Sabeel UK)
Permission to publish this letter was obtained from the author and recipient.
See also letters from:
Dr Mark Braverman, Author of the Fatal Embrace
Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Lampeter University
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Islington North
Professor Scott Elias, Royal Holloway, University of London
Tony Greenstein, Founding Member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Professor Mary Grey, Patron, Friends of Sabeel UK
Dr Jeff Halper, Co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
Canon Garth Hewitt, Founder of the Amos Trust
Dr Ghada Karmi, Exeter University
Venerable Michael Lawson, Rector of St Saviour’s, Guildford
Jeremy Moodey, Chief Executive, Biblelands
Professor Ilan Pappe, Exeter University
Rabbi Dr Stanley Howard Schwartz, Hospice Chaplain and retired Army Chaplain
Church Times: Vicar is not Anti-Semitic
Church Times: Rabbi Clears Vicar of Anti-Semitism
Jewish Chronicle: Bishop: anti-Zionist vicar ‘no antisemite’